I thought it might be interesting to share what it is like to have a “public profile” – not as a celebrity of course – merely someone that people might look at in the street and have a sense of familiarity with. I was in the LinkedIn office in Paris in February – far away from home – and several of the team there were staring at me. Only one offered this comment, “I’m sure I know you – are you a new team member?”.
That is often what I get from people – obviously more often in Australia than abroad. People have a “I’m sure I know you” look in their eye. Though I wonder if this will change now that I have joined the team for the Channel Ten Australian Shark Tank production – set to air in early 2015
I have always worn red when I speak publicly – it’s like wearing a uniform. Apart from the fact that it has a brand association with the business I founded in 2001 RedBalloon, It really helps people to put me in context.
As a regular keynote speaker – wearing red also helps my audience relax. It doesn’t matter if the audience is male or female; at the very basis of human nature we “check each other out.” Malcolm Gladwell spoke of this succinctly in his book “Blink”. Once a person has you “worked out” they are far more available to listen intently to what you have to say. It is my job to help an audience feel comfortable.
People have said “I don’t know how you can get up in front of thousands of people over and over again and give so much of yourself.” People often admit that there is nothing that they would hate more than to be on stage public speaking. Yet I don’t recall ever feeling nervous before a speaking engagement.
Now that’s not to say that I have never had ‘disastrous’ things happen to me on stage – I have had beyond embarrassing moments in front of audiences. I remember once such an occasion when I was speaking to a large group in a conference center in Queensland. I often start my presentation from the back of the room, so I can walk through the participants and get to ‘know them’ on the way to the stage. The room is often dark and the stage bright. My eyesight is not the best – as was the case at this event.
As I started speaking from the back of this big room I had this sudden worry that no one had ever heard of RedBalloon, so I asked the question “Has anyone not heard of RedBalloon?” No hands went up. I then asked “Has anyone heard of RedBalloon?” and no hands went up. I thought to myself, “Oh my, I am in for a ride here”. At that moment a person with grey curly hair suddenly appeared in front of me, I thought I would be funny and act as if I were a school teacher and said, “And where do you think you’re going young man?” The person promptly responded “Last time I looked I was a woman”.
I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me. There were 500 people in the room – I was there to speak on Customer Happiness – and I had just made the biggest error – and insulted the customer to boot. There was complete silence in the room as I found my way to the stage – on with the show. It was a painful and humbling lesson.
Tip: Don’t insult your audience.
I learned long ago that most people in an audience are just glad that it is not them on stage. And if they see you stumble or make a gaff the emotion your audience experience is first pity,
quickly followed by relief that it is not them. To make an error is human – we are not perfect, and most audiences are respectful of the fact that you are just people the same as them.
If you have a presentation or speaking engagement coming up, ask yourself the following question: “What is the worst that can happen?” and know that the audience is grateful that they are not you.
I am passionate about sharing what I have learned – hence why I blog, (and thank you for reading) but I also speak – because being available to connect with people in a physical sense means that they can see beyond the words. I like to share my passion for making the world a better place, for sharing what I have learned on happiness, customer experience and creating a successful enterprise.
So for me it is not at all about celebrity – it is about reach. How can I touch, move and inspire people well beyond my immediate world? There is no greater sense of accomplishment than when someone lets me know that because they heard me speak, or read a post, they put something into action and got an outcome.
And for a prelude, my colleague Claire recently put this video together again to share my “gift of the gab” in action. What are the best lessons you’ve learned from public speaking? I look forward to seeing you there – and thank you again for indulging me by listening to my experiences
Edited from my LinkedIn collection (back when I had 400,000 listening)